By Ravi Madholall
Touring Pakistan team rebounded in emphatic style to level the three-match one-day series after churning out a facile 74-run win on Sunday in the second and penultimate match at the Guyana National Stadium, Providence.
West Indies, who started off the series in auspicious manner defeating Pakistan by four wickets Friday, failed to reproduce any sort of handsome performance as they were bowled out for 208 in reply to the Pakistani formidable 282-5 from the allocation of 50-overs.
Pakistan were certainly indebted to their bright batting prospect Babar Azam, who chalked up his fourth one-day century against the West Indians. He was left unbeaten on 125 batting at the pivotal number three position.
After that inspirational display from the hosts in the first fixture also at Providence, many would have thoughts they can come out with a greater degree of passion and zeal to seal off the rare series win but Azam showed typical character and resilience in compiling his fifth limited hundreds from 25 games, a demonstration of his sublime talent at just 22-years-old.
Apart from Azam’s delightful innings which was laced with seven fours and three sixes spanning 132 balls, pacer Hasan Ali brought his own highlight to the match with a splendid bowling exhibition by snaring five wickets for 38 from 8.5 overs to help dismiss West Indies.
Pakistan who were asked to take first knock again on a receptive pitch lost opener Ahmed Shehzad for five nicking one down the leg to be caught by wicketkeeper Shai Hope off the energetic fast-bowler Shannon Gabriel for 5 while Kamran Akmal batted responsibly for 22.
Having whipped West Indies in 3-1 in the preceding T20 series, Pakistan looking to dominate proceedings in the 50-over version but got a wake-up call in the first encounter.
Azam and the experienced Mohammad Hafeez came together and featured in steady 69-run third-wicket stand before Hafeez was stumped brilliantly by Hope off off-spinner Ashley Nurse for 32.
Azam continued to play nicely timing the ball impeccably but soon after saw the departure of Shoiab Malik (09) while he found a willing ally skipper Sarfraz Ahmed who hit 26 while Imam Wasim ensured his side rallied along beautifully in the last seven overs by accumulating 87 runs.
Wasim scored a cameo 43 not out from 35 balls with two sixes and a similar number of fours while he and the fluent Azam stitched together an entertaining 99-run sixth-wicket stand that effectively pulled the game away from the West Indians as the pacers skipper Jason Holder, Alzarri Joseph and medium-pacer Jonathan Carter were inconsistent at the end.
Gabriel who had the initial breakthrough finished as the most successful bowler with two wickets for 50 runs from his maximum ten overs.
When West Indies appeared at the crease, openers Chadwick Walton (10) and Evin Lewis (13) looked uncertain but their aggressive intent was broken to left-arm bowler Junaid Khan in tandem with another left-arm quickie Mohammad Amir sending them back in quick succession.
Kieran Powell, who made an elegant 61 the first match, never suggested permanence on this occasion was adjudged leg-before to Ali after Hope was caught for 15 to leave the Caribbean boys struggling precariously at 51-4.
Carter, known more prominently for his batting, made 12 while first game’s hero Jason Mohammed lost form falling for just 1 looping a catch to wicketkeeper Ahmed having tried to sweep off-spinner Hafeez.
However, there were some hopes when Holder and Nurse batted and shared in a fighting 63-run eight-wicket stand with Nurse playing the belligerent role as he unleashed six fours and six in his 44.
Holder continued to bat purposefully striking a few boundaries but the onus on him was too immense even though brief resistance came from Devendra Bishoo and Joseph.
But much admiration for the Barbadian Holder, who was left not out on 68 with six fours and a six in a determined innings. Ali got useful support from Hafeez. He finished with two for 23 off six tidy overs.
The two teams will be back at the same venue for the decider on Tuesday before they start off their three-match test series commencing on April 21 at the Sabina Park venue in Jamaica.
Meanwhile, the current one-day series is of paramount importance for both countries as they seek to up their points ranking which will enable them direct World Cup Qualification in 2019.
Failing to maintain a good standing, either side could still be at the global event which is scheduled to be held in England but will have to compete at the 2018 Qualifiers. Pakistan are currently ranked number 8 while the regional team is at number 9 with rating being 89 and 84 respectively.